The Change Process: Endings & New Beginning…& Transition

Change Process! For you, is it positive or negative?

The Senior Pastor at the local church I’m a part of just retired, and the new Senior Pastor will begin one week from today. I’m looking forward to the change with anticipation, and I’m also heavy about some of the “endings.”

Change is tough for many of us.

On one hand, we are made in the image of the unchangeable God. It makes sense that change often chafes. On the other, we live in a fallen world since Genesis 3. Which of us would want to be the same person next month as we are today? I want to become all God has called me to become, and spiritual growth demands change.

The key question seems to be: “Do you personally believe that this Sovereign God always invites us to respond to His presence and love?

In his excellent book, Managing Transition, William Bridges provides me with a helpful perspective on change and transition. He writes to the business-world to aid in their transition process, especially applicable in our rapidly changing business world. The underlying principles, however, apply to all transition, including personal life-crises, local church transition, and Christian movements. Change is seldom about jumping directly from negative situations, or being pushed out of positive ones, into the better God has for us with no inner wrestling or time lapse preparing for self-discovery.

First, in the change process, something ends, perhaps losing or letting go of something valuable.

Letting go of the old ways and the old containers normally creates a sense of loss in us and/or in others. For healthiest change, these losses must be identified and processed, grieved or celebrated, depending. What are you experiencing during these endings? Take time to journal.

Second, the change process includes transition.

Transition is that time between the ending or lessening of the old, but before the new has become fully formed or operational. William Bridges calls this the “neutral zone.” The neutral zone is also the time when crucial psychological realignments, reevaluation and new patterns take place most quickly. “Transition” also demands extra time and energy so prioritize the essentials and let non-essentials slide.

Since “transition” is so fluid with much on the table, the neutral zone is where our Philosophy of Life may be most powerfully challenged and reoriented. God designs this season as an opportunity to form new values for maximum LifeChange. Knowing the LifeChanging power in “transition” draws out from me a stronger desire to embrace this friend more quickly, even with the uncertainty and pain.

Third, new beginnings are the final piece in the change process.

New beginnings are the experience of the anticipated positive change. Change begins to work powerfully for us with renewed energy. We experience this in our “new beginnings,” although the in-depth preparation takes place during “transition.” A seed must fall into the ground and die before new life springs forth.

During the process, all three aspects are often together simultaneously. This three-fold process begins with most of the focus on what will end, moves through the neutral zone of transition as the focus for much of our time and energy. Finally to the dawning and noonday heat of the new beginning.

Check out the diagram, depicting the sequence of this process. Time moves from left to right. Recently my Aunt and Uncle needed to sell their house of 30+ years and move into an assisted living apartment. As I’m writing, they are physically in their new beginning, the apartment. They are still dealing with endings (selling their house) and feeling the stress in this big-time transition. This process has overlap, rather than being neatly sequential. Also, please don’t neglect any of this Both/And/And process.

“Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning” (William Bridges, “Managing Change”).

The best chance to implement innovation, to be creative and to develop into what we desire to become is in the neutral zone. Crazy as it may sound, this is the very state of disequilibrium many strive so hard to avoid…especially me. In our rapidly changing world, those who can best manage transition personally and with others stand out. Over time they have developed the capacity to process change more quickly and thoroughly. They learn to adapt on the fly. This necessitates adapting and learning new skills and values for this season.

In order to make learners of Jesus in “all people groups worldwide,” Jesus needed to retool His Twelve. Jesus especially needed to break their rigid inflexibility and teach them true servant-leadership. He molded the Twelve into an agile band of brothers who could adapt on the fly to the changing circumstances inherent in the upcoming worldwide thrust of the Good News. Instead of leaders who make the majority of decisions, people…

“…must be allowed to think for themselves, work productively without close supervision, be creative, take risks, and go the extra mile for the customer for optimal results. Employees have to bring both their hearts and their minds to work” (William Bridges, “Managing Change”).

Transition, my love-hate word!

I love the end results when I’m through the entire course. Still, I often tell God I think the process itself stinks.

However, transition in the neutral zone is the time when re-patterning most powerfully takes place. God does His most thoroughgoing work in us. Right here, if we learn to cooperate with God by trusting. Old, destructive habits are replaced most easily with new, healthy ones that are better adapted to where we are in this season of our journey. Our answers to the two essential questions (“What is God like?” “How does this God see me”) broaden and deepen. During “transition,” we more easily reconnect with our deepest longings, which may have been buried in the previous season. We retool and re-calibrate to release our sanctified imaginations to what could be.

The sharper the turn of the river of life, the slower the waters must flow for a time or the banks will overflow. If a road makes a sharp curve to the right and then to the left, we would need to slow down to navigate the turns without crashing. The same God who built these forces into nature also designed us as His image-bearers. Be willing to slow down and simplify our lives during transition to focus on the essentials. Transition is…

“…the winter in which the roots begin to prepare themselves for spring’s renewal. It is the night during which we are disengaged from yesterday’s concerns and preparing for tomorrow’s. [It] is the chaos into which the old form dissolves and from which the new form emerges. It is the seedbed for the new beginnings that you seek” (William Bridges, “Managing Change”).

“Transition” does not begin with the outcome to achieve (the “new beginning”), but with identifying and processing our “endings.” If we do not process our “endings” well, we are prone to two pendulum responses during “transition.” We may try to turn backwards and return to the familiar or we may try to sprint ahead to our “new beginning” before the time is right.

As an illustration, the Israelites failed to process their “endings” well. At the time of their Exodus from Egypt they focused more on their journey  toward their “new beginnings” in the Promised Land. Tough times of a crisis surprised them, and they immediately longed to return to Egypt. They pined for the leeks and garlic and conveniently overlooked their painful enslavement. As a direct result, their time of wandering during “transition” also increased in time and in difficulty and in futility.

“Transition” for me is tough enough without bringing baggage and blinders with me. Certainly we feel the lost-ness and emptiness in the desert before the “new beginning” arrives. And also, throwing ourselves a pity-party during “transition” for the lost things point to undealt with “endings.” Return quickly and grieve so we can rest in certain hope. Both/And!

Let me emphasize what I may have passed over too quickly. We are most conscious of our own strong feelings from loss in “endings.” God fashioned us to influence others. So we also must to keep others in mind, even in our own pain. Actually, thinking of others, switches our mindset to God’s, serving others. This helps us stay centered during change. So also ask: “Who else besides me will be affected by these endings?” Picture their faces. Note what they may lose. Empathy feels the hurts of others as if they were our own.

Help others process well.

What if I’m looking for more?

  • This is a shortened excerpt. For the article, click on this hyperlink.
  • The broader context of the book is the process of spiritual development called Cycles for Lifelong LifeChange” (see “Books by Jim Fredericks” under “Bible Resources” tab). This post is a short excerpt from chapter two.
  • Read William Bridges book called Managing Transitions; very readable and crucial to prepare for change and transition before it springs upon you.

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